My last article, Pleasure not Performance, got a lot of commentary, at least in my inbox. I talked about what I’d say to my daughter, and one of the questions that came through was, “And what would you say to your son?”
Great question! Tough question.
As I pondered it over the last two weeks, I kept coming back to how important it is for boys and men to have the communication skills and emotional intelligence to navigate relationships. That means bucking the stereotype of the strong silent man, who can take it, who is never vulnerable. Owning the emotions is the key to success. Tuning out emotions is like wearing a mask. It might be the face you’d like to show, but you’re also hiding and keeping others at a distance. Don’t trade the opportunity to connect with others for appearances’ sake.
Part of that emotional intelligence is feeling and defending your boundaries, without slipping into frustration or rage. Lashing out feels powerful, but it is not strength. Help him tune into himself to feel the first tinge of discomfort, and practice talking about it so that he can change his situation to one that is better. If he can be authentic, he’ll also be empowered.
Prioritize self-care. Why? Because when we’re stretched thin in one part of our lives, there isn’t bandwidth for upsets in other parts. Maybe your son is an athlete, maybe not. Does he eat well, or is it all soda and pizza? Does he sleep, or does he stare at a screen late into the night? Create the self-care habits today and make them sacred. There’s a reason why, with all there is to do, the president takes time to exercise. So many of us are waiting for someone else to take care of us, and the mature, selfish, and truly adult thing to do is to take care of ourselves so that we can better show up for others.
Make him aware that patriarchy has stacked the chips in his favor. It’s hard for girls and women to stand up to boys and men; they’ve been conditioned in oh-so-subtle ways to be people pleasers all their lives. When they do, recognize their strength and complement them. Women often cede power to men in a relationship, so strive to give it back. Verbally ask for consent. Yes, really. Don’t lean in for the kiss. Ask, “May I kiss you?” because it feels awesome to get a “Yes!” and it’s way better to get a “No” than to have her feel defensive or like she needs to appease and escape. (When he does get a “No,” is he worried about what to do next? Smile warmly and stay in your goodness. Say: “I’m so glad you told me. I like you so much, and the last thing I want to do is make you uncomfortable.” Smooth.)
And on the topic of romance, let it be exploratory and playful. Pleasure, not performance! Be in the zone. Have a beginner’s mind. Every partner will be different, so don’t think there’s one way, one technique that makes someone a good lover. Listen, really listen. A man who doesn’t listen to his partner is a bad lover at best and a rapist at worst. Let that sink in. How you are being is far more important than what you are doing.
If you’re looking at all this, wondering where to start, I’m happy to help! Just hit reply and tell me what’s going on, or grab a spot on my calendar if you’d rather chat on the phone.
In support of you,
P.S. There are over 80 videos for you to explore on boundaries, consent, talking to kids about porn, and lots of other sexuality topics. Check out the video library membership to gain the content and a supportive community as you navigate raising your boy.